The house that Santa Claus forgot…

Monday has lived up to its reputation and proved to be a difficult day. But what was I expecting… I knew there would be challenges at its outset and that hopes, deeply buried, would be dashed: my head told me, my heart warned me; my gut churned, upset. Maybe that’s the thorn in my side, the message I am supposed to take from my recent injury (which, as a result of an overly enthusiastic manhandling – my fault, not theirs – has resulted in a ribcage that cannot be touched)? I cannot even begin to describe the pain.

As I try to reframe the situation, pulling at the ground in search of roots that might be woken and coaxed, examining where I am and what I ought to do in order to navigate: I am surprised by the smile that has, against expectation, hijacked my mouth. From one-step removed, it’s funny. Hilarious, in fact, for I couldn’t make this stuff up. I couldn’t, even if I wanted, find it to read online. It’s far too tangled; knotted in strange places and personally attached. One thing? Possible. Several… perhaps. This many: no. Fiction would object.

I’ve read books about knitting spells into garments and tasting feelings cooked into food. I’ve watched movies about characters who have fought off monsters, survived natural disasters; faced cruel, menacing individuals and survived. But I haven’t come across a scenario where the protagonists have been attacked quite so thoroughly by all of the possible contingents that could come into play, especially not when they are trying so hard to make good things happen, taking action and leaping when previously they had been playing it safe. Gritty and grey: it wouldn’t sell.

Which begs the question: why am I attempting to document this, putting it all together into a PDF to later (hopefully) publicly print? I guess I’m hoping that my experiences will do several things; that, depending on the reader, they will advise, warn, entertain, enlighten, comfort and/or help. Worst case scenario, they will serve to remind me, holding everything that has happened and everything that will happen still, in place; remembering, in case I forget.

I woke to a mild day, released from the usual burden of layers, the need for hat and scarf. Walking into Soho, I was immediately aware of another pleasant shift: Brewer Street was empty, Dean Street was dead; cafés and restaurants, usually open, usually full, were shut. It’s been busy recently, which has made me anxious, pushing me down unfamiliar alleyways in search of peace and although my missions have been successful and my journeys enjoyable enough, I have missed walking without interruption and following a straight line: it’s the closest thing to normality and order that I have. No longer worried about bumping into and being bumped up against, I relax. Sadly, that’s where the gratitude stops: for along with public services being in short supply, businesses have also emptied out, resulting in important individuals being absent. The problem of the house – the what are we doing and where are we spending Christmas? – remains: open and empty; a stain.

Inside the agency, a battle ensues: sunk feet, strong words; sentences; explanations; lies… fists, fingers, knives. No budging. Adamant! With no authority, those in charge throw toys, preferring to take back everything (that which was wanted and that which was not, that which was promised and that which was planned, that which has been done and that which is to happen still) rather than give in completely or consider a compromise. We can’t even be escorted or get access to a key in order to inspect the work; yet we are expected to sign and be happy with that. No way… not after the last time. Once bitten: I am twice shy; sensibly fearful.

Four hours later, the dust has settled and what I suspected has indeed transpired. The mouse problem has not been addressed. The cleaning has been superficial. The light fixtures and blinds (worn, discoloured, dated) remain. Disappointed, upset, frustrated and angry; I am also glad. Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t…. even if that devil (a.k.a: the other one, the one you don’t) might actually be from warmer climes. A vibrating floor, a bed with a heartbeat, fire escapes and balconies that fill up with smokers, usually at 4 am; builders outside the window staring in, living inside black blinds, a leaking sink, a malfunctioning hob, limited furniture… all preferable to a colony of four-pawed, long-tailed creatures, lurking inside the walls.

by Rebecca L. Atherton

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